Despite the Foreign Office emphasising that India was looking for an undersea route to source gas from Iran, bypassing Pakistan in the process, reliable sources here maintained that the India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) “Peace Pipeline” still remained on the drawing board and was the most viable option.
Following talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid last week, official sources suggested that one important subject, which was also discussed with the Oman Foreign Minister the same day, was the revival of an undersea pipeline project. Official sources suggested that this pipeline, which would bypass Pakistan, was now technically feasible after the success of the North Sea undersea pipeline.
If Iran was looking at the cheapest way to get gas to customers, it would prefer European customers. But what Iran had in mind was providing spillover benefits of the surface pipeline to the region it passes through, especially the Makran Plateau common to both Pakistan and Iran and where poverty has fuelled subversive tendencies.
And, the sources suggested that the future of the IPI pipeline was entwined with the Chah-bahar port as Iran was keen to ensure that this town and the surrounding region of Sistan-Baluchistan Province also gained from the availability of gas. The benefits will cross the border as development of industry due to availability of energy would give more employment opportunities to Pakistani youth. Interestingly, this is India’s approach too. Its officials began two days of talks with their Pakistani counterparts here on Wednesday on exporting electricity.
Just 72 km from the Pakistani port of Gwadar being built with Chinese help, the first phase of developing the Chah-bahar port is nearly over. The Union Cabinet has already earmarked $100 millions for the development of the port in anticipation of Iran agreeing to involve India in developing the port as well as utilising a north-bound route that enters into Afghanistan and Central Asia.
After the latest conversation between the Iranian and Indian Foreign Ministers, official sources said Tehran will get back before Nauroz holidays (Persian New Year) with answers to queries raised. But the next government will have to work on several other fronts before Iran agrees to give India access to a port that faces the open sea unlike the bigger Iranian port of Bandar Abbas which is in the Persian Gulf.